Friday, November 23, 2012

Movie Review: Maximum Conviction (2012)

My friends and I were bored one night and decided to see what kind of bad movies we could rent and enjoy with a few beers. I certainly wasn't in the mindset for a good movie -- I simply wanted to relax with a guilty pleasure. I wanted something my friends and I could laugh at it in an intoxicated state, and just have a good time.

The very first mistake I made that night was renting Maximum Conviction, a film starring action legend Steven Seagal and WWE Superstar Stone Cold Steve Austin. You'd think a movie starring such an awesomely-terrible cast would offer some mindless entertainment, but you'd be wrong. Maximum Conviction is one of the most incredibly boring films I have ever seen, with acting and filmmaking that is so poor, you begin to wonder if there's some cruel god out there who just wants mankind to suffer.

I wanted some mind-numbing action from Maximum Conviction, and nothing more. There are plenty of gun shots and strange fist fights, but somehow none of it is cool to watch in the least.

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Reaction to Streaming UFC 154 on Xbox Live


XboxEdge.com was treated to a free streaming of UFC 154. I took the time to briefly review my experience with the UFC app. 

Read My Reaction:
Xbox Edge (Archived)




Thursday, November 15, 2012

Xbox 360 Review: Halo 4

Looking out over the ring world of Halo for the first time is a video game moment that I will remember forever. I was instantly moved by the universe developer Bungie had created on the original Xbox, so much so that Halo remains one of my favorite video games of all time. Eleven years later the Halo series has found a new home with 343 Industries, and the end result is something better than expected. Halo 4 isn’t going to blow your mind like the original, but it does move the franchise to new heights not seen since driving a warthog for the first time.
The vehicles, the squad of marines, the rich lore – yeah, that’s all still here. To some extent the formula in Halo 4 is much the same as it’s always been: fast paced combat, with a generous mix of squad-based and solo gameplay. Even the Covenant have returned, making the action feel as familiar as ever.
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Great care has certainly been taken by 343 to make Halo 4 feel familiar to fans, but a lot has still changed. Different variety to the levels, such as one mission that has you flying fast in a ship, dodging obstacles and enemy gunfire, pleasantly change things up in an unexpected way.
Other dramatic changes can be seen in the art design. Halo 4 is sporting a much darker and more realistic look and feel to the graphics. It’s a nice change that fits really well, earning Halo 4 the title of best looking game in the series. The CGI is so very fresh that it doesn’t resemble any of the CGI seen in previous Bungie games. To some extent this is Halo reimagined – and the result is absolutely Killtacular.
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I’d even go so far as to say Halo 4 is the best looking game I’ve seen on Xbox 360, and may very well be the best-looking video game ever made. The backgrounds are so highly detailed, so beautiful, that it’s truly sublime to behold them. There’s a sense of wonder that comes from playing through the campaign, as if you’re exploring a new world for the first time.
That sense of wonder, of exploring the unknown, is what gives Halo 4 its appeal. You really feel alone, exploring something that even the great Master Chief hasn’t dealt with before. Combating your new enemies, the Prometheans, is certainly suspenseful and often terrifying. There’s a level of fear that comes from feeling like you may no longer be the baddest thing in the galaxy – it helps Master Chief look mortal for the very first time.
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This is the most human Master Chief has ever looked. He’s no longer just a faceless experiment with a gun – he’s a person. His relationship with Cortana is what drives the story forward. Master Chief loves Cortana, and he even breaks his battled-hardened fa├žade more than once during the game, determined to protect her.

The story is very much focused on Cortana, which is a great change of pace from other titles. Cortana is dying from rampancy, a condition equatable to human dementia. She faces her own mortality, often questioning if she is really alive at all. It’s a beautiful story, with a level of complexity not seen previously in the Halo series.
Sadly, the story in Halo 4 is also one of its weak points. While the Master Chief and Cortana angle works perfectly, the rest of the story is a bit convoluted. I won’t spoil much for you, but I do recommend you at least watch Halo Legends before you play Halo 4. Doing so will help you get a better understanding of the characters in play here, especially the Didact. I found myself scouring Wikipedia for answers more than once, largely because I’ve never read any of the Halo novels or expanded literature.
In reality I shouldn’t have had to watch videos and read novels in order to understand the story of Halo 4. I’ve played all the Halo games through to the end (some of them multiple times), and the story in Halo 4 was still hard for me to follow, which really sucks.
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The Prometheans are great new enemy to fight and, having read a Wikipedia page or two, I think the lore behind them is interesting. So, why the hell are the Covenant in Halo 4 at all? Good question. I'm sure some book I didn't read contains the answer. The Covenant conflict is especially confusing since Halo 3 ended with a truce between the alien zealots and the USNC. I really wish 343 Studios was a bit more brave, and had just taken the Covenant out of the game completely – they don’t need to be there, and their presence in the game feels irrelevant to the narrative.
The Halo 4 campaign will only take you a little over six hours to complete, give or take depending on the difficulty. It’s not very long, and the incentives to play through it again are fairly generic (terminals to find, achievements, etc.). The Firefight survival mode is gone, replaced by a downloadable Spartan Ops that features mini-missions that will be made available on a weekly basis. It’s a nice way to add replay value to the game; however, I really miss Firefight , and gamers who plan to keep Halo 4 offline are really going to get screwed on this trade.
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Halo multiplayer is back with a slightly new system of perks and upgrades. Sadly, the gameplay itself doesn’t feel as fresh as the campaign. This is the same Halo multiplayer you’re used to, which isn’t to say that multiplayer is bad – not at all. I just know it won’t hold my interest for long, even if the new maps are nicely balanced and well designed.
I admit that when 343 Studios was announced as the new caretaker of the Halo franchise, I had some serious doubts about their ability to make a follow-up to such a high-profile shooter. I want to take this time to personally apologize to 343 for having ever doubted their ability to pull this off. Halo 4 isn’t a perfect game, but it’s a damn good one. The level of polish here is truly astounding. Halo 4 is a must play for Xbox 360 owners, even if you’re not a huge fan of first-person shooters.
The foundation has been set to take the series to a whole new level, and I’m anxious to see what comes next. Hopefully Halo 5 will be the first in the series to eliminate the stale Covenant threat completely.
 
 

This review was originally published by XboxEdge.com.

 
 

Movie Review: Skyfall (2012)


If the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences has any sense of objectivity left, they should look to Skyfall for an award for Best Director, or at the very least Best Cinematography. Director Sam Mendes and cinematographer Roger Deakins have crafted not only the best looking film of 2012, but easily the best looking 007 ever made. Skyfall is nothing short of absolutely magnificent, with a quality to the direction and photography that is truly Oscar caliber.

I hear claims that Skyfall is the best Bond film ever made, and I think that could be true – at the very worst, it comes in second just behind Casino Royale (2006). In a way the two films are similar: Both give us a look at a James Bond who feels real, suffering from the same human condition as the rest of us. It’s a take on the franchise that I’m glad Sam Mendes decided to keep, especially considering Skyfall feels as though it was made to celebrate Bond’s 50-year film history.

Somehow the creators behind Skyfall have managed to make an ode to franchise, while simultaneously maintaining the film’s distinct identity. The Aston Martin DB5 famously driven during Goldfinger (1964) makes a triumphant return in Skyfall, complete with cheesy machine guns hidden below the headlights. Moments like these exist to provide fan service, but still fit in with the mood of Skyfall, which portrays Daniel Craig’s Bond as an aging relic refusing to accept his limitations.

Sunday, November 4, 2012

Disney's Lucasfilm Deal May Be Good For Star Wars Fans

When I first heard that the Walt Disney Corporation purchased Lucasfilm and the Star Wars franchise, I was ready to Occupy Disney in protest, and I’m sure there are millions of fans who would have joined me. I was shocked. I sat stunned in my room, cuddling my Wicket doll and wishing it was all just a bad dream.
 
Episode VII? I didn’t want an Episode VII! Hell, I didn’t even want the prequel movies, but I guess George Lucas was going to shove them down my throat no matter what. To be fair, his marketing machine did do a great job of making me believe I only knew part of the story, and he did pocket a ticket purchase from me for all three of those below-average films.
It was then that I had my epiphany: if George Lucas wasn’t in charge of Lucasfilm anymore, then George Lucas couldn’t pollute the original Star Wars trilogy ever again. And that’s a huge plus, one that a Blu-ray collection absent of Star Wars reminds me of each and every day.